Russian Press - Behind the Headlines, October 27

© Alex StefflerRussian Press - Behind the Headlines, October 27
Russian Press - Behind the Headlines, October 27 - Sputnik International
Russia’s ruling party braces for less than clean sweep \ Federal center may cede some powers to regional authorities \ Proposed fines for hookah smoking

Moskovsky Komsomolets

Russia’s ruling party braces for less than clean sweep

Winning 54%- 56% of the vote in the upcoming parliamentary elections should be a strong result, according to sources in the United Russia party, which won a parliamentary majority with 64.3% in 2007.

“We are no longer targeting parliamentary majority at all costs,” a Kremlin source said. “The top goal on our current agenda is to be able to win with style and confidence.”

There is no doubt that United Russia will win more votes than any other party, whether it does it in style or not. Although the party expects to keep the seats it has now, the target is to win a “confident majority,” which probably means a median between a constitutional majority and a simple one, said Sergei Neverov, secretary of the party’s presidium.

“It would be hard to repeat the sweeping victory of 2007,” admitted lawmaker Mikhail Babich, first deputy head of the Popular Front headquarters. No political party has ever been able to maintain its popularity at such a high level for over a decade. Although the ruling party has successfully addressed a host of socio-economic challenges while preserving stability, other problems linger or progress is slower than Russians would have liked. “This is understandable – this is the way relations between the government and the voters work,” Babich said.

Another source said it is enough to cross the 50% threshold. “Why do we need this constitutional majority anyway? We’ll be able to pass all the main laws. We will only have to team up with other parties to adopt constitutional laws, and there aren’t many of them.” Constitutional laws require at least 300 votes.

These statements seem like attempts to save face, suggesting that the ruling party is losing confidence with voters as well as in its powerful administrative resource.

According to a participant in a meeting Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev held with United Russia candidates behind closed doors, the president warned against trying to achieve “inflated” results because “people would see through it.” This could be a signal not to overuse administrative resources.

The reality, however, is largely contradictory. On the one hand, the party maintains that winning a less-than-sweeping victory is no tragedy; on the other, they have reportedly circulated an order to local headquarters to bring in 60%-65% of the vote. However, the party leadership denies issuing any such orders.

Moreover, guns and cannons have joined the campaign. Party leader Vladimir Putin and its top candidate Dmitry Medvedev have held two joint meetings. Party sources say they plan weekly events. On Unity Day November 4, they are expected to attend a ceremony in Rostov, something the prime minister has never done in the past.

The president and the prime minister have different but complementary roles. As the party’s leader, Putin takes an active part in its campaign. Medvedev’s task is to attract voters who support him personally, but would not have voted for a Putin-topped party ticket. A source believes these people would add 10%-15% of the vote.

Federal center may cede some powers to regional authorities

About 100,000 federal officials may lose their jobs as a result of President Dmitry Medvedev’s initiative to decentralize power in Russia. 

A commission working on Medvedev’s instructions to redistribute responsibilities between the federal and regional authorities announced its conclusions on Wednesday. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak’s group reported that federal control and oversight powers in ten sectors could be transferred to the regions.

Kozak said the group’s interim report had been submitted to the president’s Executive Office. The final version will be ready by December.

Federal officials are currently responsible for “a broad range of powers that have a considerable impact on the regions’ socio-economic development and investment climate,” such as business licensing, law enforcement, many control and oversight functions and management of state property and natural resources.

Transferring these powers to the regions would enhance coordination and provide incentives for regional officials, the report says. The regions should be responsible for employment and healthcare issues, law enforcement, geodetic, metrological and veterinary oversight, and protection and use of wildlife and cultural heritage.

At the same time, the report says the federal authorities should retain control over veterinary imports and that the regional authorities should not be granted power over “specially protected territories of federal importance” and cultural heritage.

Kozak said not all agencies like the idea. “It is still widely believed that the transfer of powers from federal [to regional] officials would be destructive,” he said.

One result of redistributing responsibilities would be a reduction in the number of federal officials. Currently, there are 400,000 territorial-level officials, 356,000 employees in regional executive bodies and 228,000 municipal government officials.

Andrei Sharov, head of the federal government’s department responsible for the regions, said the transfer could make at least 100,000 federal officials in the regions redundant, or 25% of the total. The reshuffle should be complemented with changes in the agencies’ structure.

Kozak said those 100,000 officials would be employed by regional authorities.

Rostov Region Governor Vasily Golubev said they would find employment for the federal officials whose jobs are cut if they are also granted part of federal powers.

The decentralization of powers would allow the regions to tackle local issues more effectively, said Vologda Region Governor Vyacheslav Pozgalyov.

The reduction of federal officials will only increase the number of regional officials, said Pavel Kudyukin, an assistant professor at the Higher School of Economics. He also added that the change would not be painful, as “officials’ salaries in many regions are higher than those of federal officials.”

However, he cautioned against entrusting the regions with certain responsibilities, for example the oversight of cultural heritage.


Proposed fines for hookah smoking

The St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly passed a bill banning waterpipe or hookah smoking in public and sent the bill to the State Duma.

Legislative deputies are proposing fines for hookah smoking and for providing public hookah smoking venues, including cafes and restaurants. The proposed penalties range from 500 to 1,500 rubles for individuals, 20,000 to 30,000 rubles for officials and from 100,000 to 300,000 rubles for businesses.

Vadim Tulpanov, Chairman of the Legislative Assembly of St. Petersburg said waterpipe smoke is “a hundred times more harmful than cigarettes.” Tulpanov acknowledged that waterpipe smoking is popular in Russia, but added that “even in Turkey and Egypt they are fighting this evil.” Tulpanov said waterpipe smoking “harms human health” and vowed to “eradicate the practice in public places.”

Tatiana Yakovleva, a member of the State Duma Committee on Health, supports the ban.

“It's a fad that is somehow considered harmless or less harmful than cigarette smoking – in fact, it's a serious threat to health,” Yakovleva said. “This is not an allegation, but a scientifically proven fact.”

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